1. Agriculture World

Enhancing Global Feeding Capacity through Agriculture Sensors: An Insight

Abhijeet Banerjee
Abhijeet Banerjee
Agriculture Sensors

Involvement of Sensors in agriculture is another innovative technology where a robot equipped with a SONAR sensor is used in an experiment conducted in the fields of any research institute or a farm. This implies that the use of this technology is advantageous for growers to acquire a close-to-real estimation of the crop's yield from a given plot, irrespective of whether the plot is in a greenhouse or an open field.  Involvement of robotic arms supporting a high-resolution, hyper spectral camera, which can detect early signs of leaf diseases (due to viral or fungal infections) in crops grown in greenhouses is an example of applying sensor technology in agriculture.

Robotic sensors are used to estimate a robot's condition and environment. These signals are passed to a controller to enable appropriate behavior. Use of sensors is a part of smart agriculture, also known as “precision agriculture” that allows farmers to maximize yields using minimal resources such as water, fertilizer, and seeds. It becomes convenient for the farmers to understand their crops at a micro scale, conserve resources, and reduce impacts on the environment, by deploying sensors and mapping fields.  

Now let us understand how these sensing technologies are being converted into modern large agribusiness systems and also discuss how the technology application in small farms at home or globally can enhance the feeding capacity worldwide. There are a number of sensor technologies are used in precision agriculture, which are capable of providing data efficiently. As such the sensors help farmers monitoring and optimize crops eventually.  

Location Sensors use signals from GPS satellites to determine latitude, longitude, and altitude to within a feet. Precise positioning is important in this.   

Optical Sensors measure soil properties using light. They measure different frequencies of light reflectance in near-infrared, mid-infrared, and polarized light spectrums. Sensors can be placed on vehicles or aerial platforms such as drones or even satellites. Optical sensors have been developed to determine clay, organic matter, and moisture content of the soil. Through these sensors, soil reflectance and plant color data can be aggregated and processed.

Electrochemical Sensors provide key information such as the pH and soil nutrient levels. Here electrodes are used as sensors that detect specific ions in the soil. These days, the sensors are mounted to specially designed “sleds” and they assist in gathering, processing and mapping soil chemical data.  

Mechanical Sensors use a probe that penetrates the soil and records resistive forces through use of load cells or strain gauges. They actually measure how compact the soil is. 

Dielectric Soil Moisture Sensors assess moisture levels by measuring the dielectric constant (an electrical property that changes depending on the amount of moisture present) in the soil.

Airflow Sensors are used for measuring soil air permeability. It measures the pressure required to push a predetermined amount of air into the ground at a prescribed depth. With these sensors one can study various types of soil properties, including compaction, structure, soil type, and moisture levels.

Agricultural Weather Stations are self-contained units that are placed at various locations throughout growing fields. These stations have a combination of sensors appropriate for the local crops and climate. Information such as air temperature, soil temperature at a various depths, rainfall, leaf wetness, chlorophyll, wind speed, dew point temperature, wind direction, relative humidity, solar radiation, and atmospheric pressure are measured and recorded at predetermined intervals. This data is compiled and sent wirelessly to a central data logger at programmed intervals. Their portability and decreasing prices make weather stations attractive for farms of all sizes.  

Enhancing global feeding capacity:

Using of sensors is a part of precision agricultural technology. Considering that the United Nations has projected worldwide demand for food to expand by 50 percent by 2050, precision agriculture technologies for farms of all sizes shall be in demand in years to come. Studies indicate that large-scale global farming business has grown significantly through precision farming. Expensive sensors, infrastructure, and processing equipment could only be realistically put to work by agribusinesses with sufficient capital available to invest. Reports say that globally, approximately 500 million small farms produce more than 80 percent of the food consumed.

Sensor technology is becoming more widely accessible around the world’s largest agricultural producers. The devices can measure plant and soil health, giving farmers the information necessary to accurately calculate fertilizer requirements. Studies and reports convey that crop yields have improved noticeably through precision farming technologies like the sensor technologies. Using sensors is beneficial in : a) reducing chemical use by pinpointing fertilizer and pest contro needs b) Eliminating nutrient depletion through monitoring and managing soil health c) Controlling soil compaction by minimizing equipment traffic d) Maximizing water use efficiency.

Involvement of sensors makes it easier and cheaper to collect and apply data, adapt to changing environmental conditions, and use resources most efficiently. As such this technology has been successful in meeting the increasing demand for food using technologies worldwide. As per different reports, the smaller farms are now able to benefits as well, using tools built into smart phones, relevant applications, and smaller-sized machinery. On the other hand, the large farms have already adopted these technologies successfully. Last but not the least, the sensor technologies are apt in offering solutions that can extend beyond farms, like controlling pollution and global warming, or conservation practices etc.

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